The popular video sharing app TikTok recently added parental controls. TikTok is releasing these features firstly in the UK first and will roll out in other markets soon. I do applaud how several popular social media platforms are adding “parental controls” but the reality is they are really vanity features and these platforms are not experts in offering parental controls to the masses. TikTok is not alone here as other social media platforms have added related app limits and measurements, here are a few examples:
- Instagram added Your Activity in the app
- Facebook added Your Time on Facebook
- YouTube added Time Watched feature
Social media platforms are where users spent most of their time on their smartphones so it is an easy marketing play for these platforms to show they care about limiting our time on them with features named “Digital Wellbeing”. Yet, all of these platforms are measured on user engagement which is based on how much time users spend spent in the app (the more, the better!) There is a constant stream of articles from media on this subject matter (set up Google Alerts for “Social Media”) and parents are looking to these platforms to improve their service so they are safer for young users, even if the minimum age in the Terms of Service is typically 13 (yet app ratings can be lower!).
Back to TikTok, they call their parental controls “Family Safety Mode”. Catchy feature name but they do come short of the goal line in offering proper safety on TikTok (more below). This mode adds three features parents can control such as screen-time management controls, limits on direct messages and a restricted mode that limits the appearance of inappropriate content. The last two are a welcomed addition but as many of our users know, we are the experts in setting time limits on apps, especially on Android. So app limits or app schedules would work for any app, not just TikTok. What social media platforms are doing now is setting the expectations that parents will need to set limits inside multiple social media apps with no consistent user interface to handle this. It would be great to have a standard approach across all apps so apps like Boomerang Parental Control can securely integrate and control these for their users on a common interface. Any way… I digress.
TikTok’s Family Safety Mode requires parents to create an account (if they don’t have one already) on the platform in order to link to their child’s account but in fact you do not need to do this. See, these features to limit direct messages and filter out inappropriate content are already present in the app for the user (child) to enable. So parents, dig into the TikTok app settings and enable them. Inform your child it’s for their wellbeing and you will review these to make sure they do not get turned off. According to TikTok, the only benefit of a parent creating their own account is they can control and enforce the toggles for Family Safety Mode.
As far as TikTok’s quality in filtering inappropriate content, we don’t know much about how good their screening process is or how it works. Just like Youtube’s Restricted Mode, we find no filter is perfect and still requires human involvement in flagging and reviewing inappropriate content. Since these platforms are dynamic with new content uploaded every second, this will continue to be a challenge for any platform to moderate in the future.
There are additional controls that TikTok only allows the user to enable which could be very useful for parents to review and control. The following come to mind for me:
- choose to make accounts private
- turn off commenting
- control who’s allowed to duet with them
As for monitoring all content on TikTok, the platform is not offering parents a way to monitor and get notified for keywords, bullying, self harm or worse. These are areas that are. challenging for parents to monitor as kids can easily hide these communications inside the apps, even if parents do the occasional review of their kids’ smartphones. Boomerang Parental Control does have safety features to monitor content in Android text messages but is not currently looking to monitor popular social media platforms. Our friends at Bark do this very well, on Android devices (iOS is simply not flexible enough). We recommend you try Bark’s service if you wish to monitor platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and more. If you do sign up, use the follow promo code “useboomerang” to get a month free.
Bench Banter Podcast with Jesse Miller discussing TikTok (this is the Spotify link, we are also on Apple/Google Podcasts)